Will China Get Its Own Version Of Google Glass?

Google Glass

Now that it’s available on Taobao, will Google Glass get a Chinese competitor? (Google)

Google Glass may not be officially available in China yet, but anyone familiar with the Chinese consumer market shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the futuristic device is already being sold through individual online sellers.  According to a new report on China Real Time, dozens of China’s online merchants have been able to get ahold of reportedly real models of Glass, and are retailing them for between 12,000 and 20,000 yuan ($1,950-$3,252) on e-commerce platform Taobao.

With enthusiasm in China for the Google product, it leads one to wonder: when will a Chinese company ever make a smilar device?

There aren’t many contenders yet, but the closest appears to be search engine Baidu. In early April last year, there were reports about its plan to produce a smart eyewear device named “Baidu Eye” similar to Glass. While the original announcement of a prototype of Baidu Eye turned out to be an April Fool’s joke, Baidu has in fact been going through internal testing of a similar device featuring an LCD display, voice control, and image recognition.

A genuine internal photo from Baidu featuring its testing of Google Glass-like technology. (Baidu)

A genuine photo from Baidu’s company offices featuring its testing of Google Glass-like technology that was released after tbe April Fool’s joke about a prototype for Baidu Eye. (Baidu)

A recent Chinese-language report on RedaiApp.com in March explained why this device should be no joke for Baidu. The report states that Baidu needs to become a more forward-looking company, and has fallen behind in the era of smart phones:

Baidu started off mirroring Google as a search engine, but unfortunately, over the years it has been gradually drifting away from Google in terms of product types and business models. Baidu has become more domestically focused and its sights have narrowed, leaving it difficult to expand business to a global scale.

When Baidu joined NASDAQ, co-founder Li Yanhong described it as a company driven by technology, and stressed that except for the search engine, Baidu’s development path is independent from Google’s.

Based on Baidu’s performance over the years, it doesn’t look like a forward-looking company. Baidu’s avoidance of mimicking Google along the way has led the company to fall behind in many aspects. If it had followed Google closely, it might have been more successful—not that C2C (Copy to China) companies should be encouraged.

The report says Baidu has been having difficulty expanding its business, while Google, on the other hand, has been growing through participating in lab projects and corporate acquisitions of companies such as Android, which came to dominate more than three-fourths of smart phones globally. As a result, Baidu released its own smart phone and operating system, but the article says this happened too late, and Baidu should be laying eyes on the future battlefield of wearable technology so it doesn’t make the same mistake it made with smart phones.

Before the war of wearable technology begins, Baidu has chosen to imitate Google, again. The Baidu Eye is the not only company’s bet on the future but also its covetousness to have a voice in the mobile technology market.

Baidu has no choice but to bet on mobile cloud and location-based services because it appears to be a way to catch up with its counterparts, since it has failed to earn a place in the era of smart phones. To prevent falling farther behind, Baidu has chosen to once again follow the same target in hopes of joining the future war of wearable intelligent devices.

Looking at IT giants’ next steps, one can easily see the future battle is going to be centered on wearable devices. Now that Google and Apple have basically reined the smart phone industry, the next trend awaits. Google has apparently chosen the Google Glass, whereas Apple has seemed to have chosen iWatch.

Baidu shares are trading at more than 50 percent below their average valuation over the past five years, and its shares are down 13 percent so far in 2014, but the article says that it should jump into the wearable tech market while it’s still young to regain strength:

This is a relatively safe choice: the development of wearable devices, including Google Glass, remains fairly young. As Google Ventures teamed up with Andreessen Horowitz and KPCB to form the Glass Collective and funded Google Glass in many ways, one can see wearable devices are now greatly supported by investment giants, and the war has just begun. When you look at the Chinese market, there hasn’t been a domestic competitor against Baidu in this field yet.

Baidu’s technological and financial resources give it an advantage in the domestic market, so if it can ever come up with a piece of wearable tech—and if it takes off with consumers—China’s own homegrown “Glass” technology could be a savior for the company.

 

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Mobile, Tech